Two new cases of blueberry rust have been detected in North-West Tasmania, leaving the state’s blueberry growers concerned about the disease’s impact on their fruit.
Biosecurity Tasmania’s website said the disease was detected at the North-West properties in March 2017, but an update on the blueberry rust threat was only posted week.
A Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment department spokesman said the new cases of the disease were “near the first site”.
Quarantine measures are continuing at these sites.
“In line with the approach taken with the detection last year, the infected properties are subject to quarantine control with conditions in place on the movement of host materials off the property to reduce the risk of movement of the disease,” the spokesman said.
Department staff worked with interstate authorities and blueberry growers to ensure growers were still able to access mainland markets after the 2016 outbreak, and will continue to do the same after this latest detection, the spokesman said.
Turners Marsh organic blueberry farmer Kent Mainwaring is concerned that Biosecurity Tasmania’s efforts to control the disease in Tasmania would impact his ability to sell fruit to the organic market.
“We are certified organic and 99 per cent of our fruit is sent directly to the mainland, so that market is important to us,” Mr Mainwaring said.
“What’s concerning to us is that if we have to treat our fruit it is no longer organic. I would always be able to sell [my blueberries] as conventional fruit, but it’s not as lucrative,” he said.
Fruit Growers Tasmania business development manager Phil Pyke said the industry was concerned about the lack of Biosecurity Tasmania updates on blueberry rust containment.
“We want an update on where this is at for our growers and those in plant propagation,” Mr Pyke said.
“It’s affecting access to markets and we have very strong concerns about that,” he said.
Primary Industry Biosecurity Action Alliance chairwoman Dixie Emmerton said the alliance had raised concerns about this latest blueberry rust infection with Biosecurity Tasmania and Primary Industries minister Jeremy Rockliff.
“At this time we are waiting for further details from Minister Rockliff and the department in relation to what process was undertaken during the latest detection,” Ms Emmerton said.
The Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment department has been working with Fruit Growers Tasmania to develop a farm hygiene program for berry growers.
This program will be rolled out to blueberry growers first and funding for it was included in the $5.6 million boost for biosecurity measures announced in the Tasmanian budget last week.
“The aim is to assist small growers, in particular, to adapt their operations and protect their farms from a range of potential pests and diseases, to support them to manage for market access and/or any market certification schemes, and generally support their farm management practices,” the spokesman said.
The August 2016 blueberry rust infection was traced to a Costa commercial blueberry farm at Suphur Creek, however Costa corporate affairs manager Michael Toby said the company was not aware of this new detection.
“We don’t know anything about it. We had [blueberry rust] on our farm in August 2016 and we’ve had ongoing dealings with Biosecurity Tasmania, but are not aware of it,” Mr Toby said.
Around 40 Tasmanian properties had berry plants removed in December 2014 and January 2015 after a blueberry rust infestation was traced to Victoria.